For Ruzafa, a three-time XTERRA World Champion, the win is the 28th of his career, fifth of the season, and fourth-in-a-row on the XTERRA European Tour. For Erbenova, a three-time XTERRA European Tour Champion, the win is the 26th of her career, third this season, and second-straight in Belgium.
The event combined a 1-kilometer swim in the Meuse River, followed with a 34-kilometer mountain bike in the forest surrounding the Citadel, and concluded with a 10-kilometer trail run.
Both Ruzafa and Erbenova came from behind out of the water, took the leads by the midway point on the bike and held on for the wins. Ruzafa had a winning time of 2:45:42, 52-seconds faster than runner-up Xavier Dafflon of Switzerland. Erbenova took the tape in 3:14:59, nearly five minutes ahead of runner-up Carina Wasle of Austria.
XTERRA World Tour managing director Dave Nicholas was on-site to take in all the action and brings us this report…
A beautiful day and a beautiful race. It rained hard yesterday and it rained hard on the race last year, however, everything came good this morning and both the XTERRA Lite and championship races were held in near perfect weather.
The swim is unique here as it is a deep water start headed against the current of the Meuse river. And this is no small piece of water; the Meuse is over 950k long. There are no buoys except at the finish ramp as the course circumnavigates a huge island in the river. Pretty neat.
Young French pro Maxim Chane dropped the field to come out of the water first and he held that lead to the top of the long climb from the river to The Citadel Fortress. He was met by literally thousands of very enthusiastic fans banging plastic “bangers” together and shouting encouragement. Following him starting the single track was Roger Serrano, but it was not to be his day. Roger is still tired from organizing his XTERRA Spain and it showed today. Brad Weiss up from South Africa was third at this point with a huge bunch including Ruben Ruzafa, Francois Carloni, Yeray Luxem and four others.
In the women’s race Carina Wasle got the lead quickly and we were all quite surprised to see Helena Erbenova much closer than usual. “I had a very good swim today” she grinned. “The ducks were with me in practice and I saw them on the island. It seemed they were cheering me.” Hey, whatever works.
This course has a long climb on cobblestones before doing two loops of a fast and, at places, technical mountain bike course. This means racers have to do that huge climb three times before T2. At the top of the second-loop Ruben had asserted himself and Francois Carloni had moved into second with Luxem in third and Weiss in fourth. At this point young first year pro Xavier Dafflon was not far behind. Dafflon did the unthinkable in Portugal by posting a faster bike time than Ruben, and it appeared he was going to repeat that today.
Helena had taken the lead by the end of the first loop and looked very determined. Carina had slowed a bit and told us after the race she was not feeling very strong, however, the mighty little Austrian gal felt good enough to have a commanding lead over third-place Isabelle Klein. Unless a tree fell on her, this was Erbenova’s race and she controlled it well to win by five minutes. Carina, sick or not, kept pace and was four minutes in front of Morgane Riou, who had passed Klein to move into third. Also on the move was Christine Verdonck, a very quick Belgian age group women who impressed by finishing 4th overall. Klein finished 5th (4th elite), with Maud Golsteyn was 6th (5th elite).
On the mens side, Dafflon had caught and passed everyone but Ruzafa.
“I had a good race today but Xavier went past me on the last climb like he was on a motorbike,” exclaimed Carloni.
Luxem held onto Dafflon’s wheel and they came into T2 separated by seconds.
“My plan today was to pace myself on the bike during the first lap to save my legs, but when Dafflon went by me that plan went away,” said Luxem.
Dafflon took off on the run with intent to catch Ruzafa and indeed he turned in the fastest run of the day as well as the fastest bike of the day, but Ruzafa had too much for the big Swiss. The promise that Dafflon showed in Portugal was cemented today and his bike time was exactly two-minutes faster than Ruzafa. The kicker? Dafflon had two flat tires today.
“It was a hectic day, two flat tires, cramps on the run, it was tough,” said Dafflon at the finish line. “Still, happy to come in second to Ruben.”
Luxem took 3rd with Weiss 4th, and Carloni 5th. Young Maxim Chane’ was having a great race but suffered badly on the run and dropped to 6th and was nearly caught by the old fox, Jan Kubicek, who was just one-second behind.
And so ended the second edition of XTERRA Belgium. With about 1,200 entrants in just their second year, organizers Denis Detinne and Florian Badoux have exceeded anything we could have hoped for. The courses are beautifully marked, volunteers everywhere, lots of parking, more than enough water safety, food vendors and expo to buy anything you need. This race truly has it all.
We head back soon for the awards and after party. While I have a lot of great things to say about how good the race is – the after party is even better.
XTERRA Belgium was the sixth of 14 races on the XTERRA European Tour, and 20th of 40 on the XTERRA World Tour where amateur athletes from around the world can qualify to race at the 22nd annual XTERRA World Championship in Maui on October 29.